Camp Good Times!
The more time passes the faster it seems to go. This has never felt more true than over the past few months, and now we find ourselves hurtling toward our return visit to the US in less than three weeks! In many ways, it is hard to believe we have been gone from the US for over two years, and I find myself caught somewhere between expecting things to be exactly the same and expecting everything to be completely different. Afterall, life has taught me on more than one occasion that once gone, we can never really return home again. Or as Nelson Mandela said, “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” Nonetheless, we are excited to return and reconnect with so many who we have missed over the past few years.
Here, the busyness of life and school continues and has even intensified as we finish the 2022 school year. Some of the biggest highlights of the end of the year at Lighthouse happen at camps! And just a few weeks ago, I was privileged enough to go with the Grade 10 students on a week-long camp in the south of Mauritius. We stayed at the a Catholic retreat center by the ocean called Senlis-sur-Mer in Raimbel. Despite there being a little mischief and little sleep, the week was a lot of fun and very transformative for many students.
The week started with a full-day hike in Black River Gorges National Park. To start the hike, students were immediately divided into three teams, which would be their small groups for the week. We had two groups of boys and only one group of girls while having two female chaperones and only one male chaperone for the week, so I was in charge one of the boys’ teams who later named themselves the Kingsmen. (Don’t worry, some other male staff came for parts of the week as well.) It was a great day for hiking and a great exercise in patience for my team of energetic boys who wanted to run down the mountain but were forced to slow their pace in order to stay with the larger group. At the end of the hike there was a river with a spot deep enough to jump off the rocks and swim, which was a perfect reward after a long hike.
Throughout camp there were various games and team challenges, but some of the highlights included a beach cookoff and night games! For the beach cookoff, each team was given a box of ingredients. The boxes had many similar ingredients, but some teams had the advantage of special ingredients based on their team’s performance in earlier challenges. With the ingredients provided, each team had to create a three-course meal—appetizer, main course, and dessert—cooked over a campfire on the beach. Technically, there were supposed to be time limits on how long the teams had to prepare each course, but let’s just say, we had to make a few adjustments. So, three or four hours later, each team had successfully produced three courses which they presented to the judges (me and the other staff) for tasting. I should add that this was their dinner as well, so they also had to eat what they cooked. It was really amazing to see the creativity and cooking talents of many of the students. And it was also hilarious to watch them try to build campfires, which was the first major delay in the process. Note for next year, maybe we should teach them how to build fires before expecting them to build fires!!
Nevertheless, each team won at least one round. The winning appetizer was a fried potato ball with cheese in it. There is a Mauritian name for this, but I can’t remember it. The winning main dish was a cheesy pasta with chicken sausages, and the winning dessert was an apple crumble, which only barely beat out a tart with caramelized pineapple. All in all, I think the students really enjoyed this challenge and the opportunity to show their skills. The teams were also responsible for cooking various other meals in the kitchen throughout the week, and I think they quickly learned that planning, prepping, and cooking a meal for roughly 30 people is not so easy. We only had one minor mishap when some of the boys on my team covered a plastic try with aluminum foil and put it in the over to roast garlic bread. Needless to say, it took quite a bit of scraping and elbow grease to remove the melted plastic from the bottom of the over. So another note for next year, explicitly tell students that plastic cannot go into the oven!
The night games were also a big hit at camp, mostly because they involved glow sticks and running around in the dark. One game involved distributing several hundred glow sticks (imported from the US) across the large back lawn of the retreat center. Each team was given a bucket and had to collect as many glow sticks as possible. The team with the most glow sticks in their bucket at the end of the game won. BUT, there was a catch. The catch was that each staff member had a pool noodle with which they could whack students. If a student was hit by a noodle, they had to surrender their glow sticks and do ten jumping jacks before continuing the game. So if you remember the mischief I mentioned earlier, well, let’s just say the staff enjoyed this game as much as the students. There were other night games and more day games, and fun was had by all.
By far the most special part of camp for me was small group time. We had daily devotions and also had the opportunity to share personal stories of struggle and triumph. I was touched by my group of 14 to 16-year old boys as they shared their stories. Many shed tears as they talked about personal challenges, and I was proud of the way the group members rallied around each other to provide support, hope, and encouragement. I was also grateful to witness the transformation of many students over the course of the week. There were some who verbalized an awareness of the ways in which they had drifted from their values and who showed an earnest desire to reconnect with their faith or families. Another young man who earlier this year was suicidal and so down on himself that he couldn’t even make eye contact thrived during camp week as his various talents and personal character shined among his classmates. To see him smiling and confident was amazing!
The final day of camp ended with a morning trip to Roche Qui Pleure, a rock cliff by the ocean where the waves break directly against the rocks. It was a beautiful setting for our final reflection time. The theme for the week was ‘surrender,’ so we asked the students to consider what it was that they felt they needed to surrender in order to be more the person they wanted or felt called to be. Each student was given a rock and asked to write what they needed to surrender on the rock. After some time holding the rock in quiet reflection, the students were encouraged to throw their rocks into the ocean as a symbolic surrendering of whatever they were struggling with. Several students found this activity meaningful, and as we walked back toward the bus, a student (we will call her Samantha) stopped me and ask how she could actually let go of what she wrote on her rock. This led to a longer discussion about fear and letting go—and as fate would have it, Samantha’s ability to overcome her fear would soon be tested.
Our last stop before heading back to school was a Nepalese bridge at La Vallée des Couleurs. The Nepalese bridge is a single plank width bridge that is 350 meters long and suspended roughly 80 to 100 meters above the forest canopy. It is the type of activity that goes against every survival instinct in the body, despite being strapped to a safety harness. As we approached the bridge, it was clear that Samantha was feeling anxious. She hung back to the end of the line as her eager peers rushed at the opportunity. I waited with her and assured her that I would go last and be right behind her. She stepped up for her turn, but only got about 6 or 8 feet out onto the bridge when she froze. I talked to her and told her that I was coming. I got on the bridge and walked up behind her, stifling my own fear, and assured her that I was there. “One foot in front of the other,” I said. “You can do this.”
At that moment, it started to rain, and despite my best efforts, she wasn’t moving. She wanted to go back, so I asked the guide if it would be okay if she waited at the beginning for us to come back around and pick her up. Honestly, I was afraid that if I tried to force her, she might have a panic attack in the middle of the bridge, and I wasn’t sure I was prepared to manage that and my own anxiety. The guide said this would be fine, so we went back to the start. I told her that we would come back to get her and turned around to return to the bridge. “You’re still going?” she asked. I said yes and went on, knowing that this was likely causing her to question her own decision to stay behind, but once on the bridge, I didn’t look back as I focused my own mind on putting one foot in front of the other.
When I reached the other side, the others in the group asked where Samantha was, and I told them that she had decided not to do it. We were all disappointed but turned to go. As we were about to drive away, one of the guides came running over and said that Samantha was on the bridge and was coming. The others needed to go to the next activity, but I stayed behind and waited. Sure enough, at the starting end of the bridge I saw Samantha. A guide was walking backward in front of her and helping her along. Little by little, step by step, she made it all the way across the bridge. When she reached the other side, I cheered, she smiled, and we celebrated her victory. She was beaming as she shared her accomplishment with the rest of the group and said with pride, “I surrendered my fear!” Indeed she did. And what a glorious finish to camp it was!
There are still more camps to come, including the Grade 11 camp that Aaron will be chaperoning during the last week of school. And of course, we have a senior banquet, graduation, final grades, and end-of-the-year celebrations still to come before the last day of school on November 25th. It will be a crazy rush, but also a great achievement to finish our second full year at Lighthouse. Time does fly, but if we stop to pay attention, there are some pretty good things that happen along the way!
More camp photos:
With peace, love, and gratitude until 2023…
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